Mental health in the workplace isn’t an issue you can ignore. In general, it’s often a place where issues can become exacerbated, and this is especially true of high-stakes professions like dentistry. Fear of mistakes and litigation often leads to high emotional exhaustion and burnout, a topic you can read more about in my blog from January last year.
As a practice manager or owner, you must monitor the physical and mental well-being of all employees, but why might the latter be particularly pertinent to your male employees? How can you spot the early signs of poor male mental health, and what’s the best way to provide support? In this blog, I’ll discuss everything you need to know about men’s mental health in the workplace.
Why men’s mental health specifically?
Of course, you should prioritise the mental health of all your employees – but there’s a reason why men’s mental health often requires a more sensitive approach.
Men account for three-quarters of all suicides, and over 13 men take their own lives each day. These shocking statistics shed light on the stark reality: many men struggle with their mental health, and a disproportionate amount of them reach a breaking point because they feel unable to seek help.
Of course, men and women experience mental health issues and may deal with their emotions differently. But a notorious cloud of stigma surrounds men’s mental health, bolstered by traditionally ‘masculine’ stereotypes and gender roles.
Men are often expected and assumed to act confidently, assertively, and without emotion. They may feel more pressure to live up to these expectations at work, where they’re traditionally assigned the role of ‘breadwinner’ and encouraged to prove their worth.
Society has conditioned us to believe that outward displays of emotion contradict these masculine stereotypes, constituting unacceptable or outlandish behaviour. This tradition has created a perfect storm where men would rather suffer in silence for fear of appearing weak. 40% of men have never spoken to anyone about their mental health and 29% of those who haven't say they are "too embarrassed" to do so.
Withholding these issues from colleagues, friends, family members, and mental health professionals removes all opportunities for intervention. But if you can spot signs that a male employee might be struggling, it may remove the onus on them to actively seek help - and breaking down this barrier could save their life.
What are the signs to look out for?
Poor mental health manifests differently in us all. It depends on the condition in question, whether it’s depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar, eating disorders - or anything else. Whilst the specific symptoms of these conditions will differ, here are a few common signs that someone might be struggling and need support:
This can be a physical absence from work and work-based social activities or a mental withdrawal or vacancy. If an employee struggles with their mental health, they may find it harder to engage with fellow employees, preferring to sit alone or take excessive time off work.
You might notice their sentences drifting off or they struggle to hold a conversation. Whilst this could be down to tiredness in the first instance, try to monitor if it becomes a consistent behaviour.
Perhaps you notice an employee drinking more than usual, spot signs they might be taking drugs or binge eating. These are common examples of escapist behaviour, and coping mechanisms that may indicate an underlying issue.
Feelings of sadness or anxiety associated with many mental health issues can manifest in erratic, irritable, angry behaviour. These outward displays of emotion can harm other employees, so you may hear repeated concerns about someone and become aware of a pattern.
If an employee is experiencing mental health issues, they may seem distracted from their daily tasks. Their performance might slip, work becomes overdue, or you notice they’re more prone to mistakes.
What steps should you take as an employer?
All mental health issues are stigmatised, but men’s mental health is particularly so. The prevalent anxieties around asking for or accepting help make it a sensitive topic to navigate as an employer, so you should approach it thoughtfully. Here are my top tips for dealing with men’s mental health in the workplace:
Foster open communication
Your priority should be to create a workplace environment where people feel safe discussing their emotions, knowing they won’t be ridiculed or judged, and confident that it won’t affect their employment.
This work should begin long before you notice an employer struggling - you can start now. In one-to-one sessions, discuss your emotions and how they might affect your work, or set aside 10 minutes at the end of every meeting to discuss mental health. This measure will reassure your employees that it’s safe ground to cover.
Use the right language
Men’s mental health is closely linked to their identity, so specific words and phrases can be triggering for those experiencing issues.
When discussing the issue of mental health at work, avoid triggering terms like “depression”, “anxiety”, “problem”, “suffer”, and “victim”. Instead, use positive, solutions-focused language that focuses on strengths and abilities.
You should implement an Employee Assistance Programme, whereby all staff can access independent mental health support 24/7, 365 days per week.
People may feel more comfortable using this discreet service than disclosing details to you or your fellow employees, and it will show your staff that you’re committed to investing in their mental health.
Implement training and policies
Training sessions focused on mental health will make employees more attuned to their colleagues’ potential issues and reassure those living with mental health issues that their workplace supports their needs.
If you don’t have one already, create a policy dedicated to mental health. This policy should outline your approach to mental health generally, the measures you take to break down stigmas, and the support you’ll provide if you learn of an issue.
I have a wealth of knowledge of dental employment and HR law. If you need specialist help to shape your policies and contracts, contact me to set up a call.